British paralympian alleges that disabled riders were referred to as "gimps"

Shane Sutton, British Cycling‘s technical director, has been suspended from his role pending an investigation after he was accused of making derogatory comments about British para-cyclists.

Sutton was already in the spotlight after sprinter Jess Varnish alleged that he had made sexist remarks to her, including that she should “go away and have a baby”.

On Tuesday, British Cycling announced that it was launching a formal investigation, in conjunction with UK Sport, to examine Varnish’s claims.

The organisation was forced to go further, however, when hours later the Daily Mail published comments from Darren Kenny, a six-time gold paralympic gold medallist, who said that para-cyclists were “tolerated at best” and referred to in derogatory terms. Sutton denies all allegations of wrong-doing but has been suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation.

“I don’t think we were ever considered to be elite athletes,” said Kenny. “The term used to refer to us was generally ‘gimps’, with another word in front of that. I know others had an issue as well with not being allowed on the track and not being given time to prepare for competitions.”

Kenny, who was awarded an OBE for his services to disabled sport, called his time with British Cycling “one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life”.

Another source quoted by the Mail described an incident in which he says he heard Sutton describe para-cyclists as “f**king gimps”, and revealed that para-cyclists “were referred to as wobblies”.

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Allegations of discriminatory behaviour arose after track sprinter Varnish was dropped from the Olympic squad. She has described a “culture of fear” in which athletes and staff feel unable to speak out about unacceptable behaviour.

British Cycling’s statement read: “Following the announcement of an independent review into British Cycling’s performance programmes, we are also announcing technical director Shane Sutton has been suspended pending an internal investigation into the allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press.”

Sutton, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist for Australia in 1978, began working with British Cycling in 2002 and became a key member of Dave Brailsford’s hugely successful coaching set-up ahead of the Beijing Olympics. He stepped up to lead British Cycling’s coaching team after the departure of Brailsford in 2014.

  • ummm…

    some grounded assumptions here. you are certainly right in saying that there are other effective coaching styles – lets hope they dont all have a job at the moment.

  • ummm…

    well, now it is all done and dusted as you brits say. i think the outcome was to everyones benefit. hopefully BC cycling doesn’t have this theme reoccur too much. it can get tiresome.

  • gr1nch

    I think Varnish stated effectively that he was not good enough as a coach in a world-class setup that the whole team contributed to, just as Sutton earlier had claimed she wasn’t considered good enough for Rio and the programme overall, ie he sacked her.

    If you read his comments, he is the one actually critical of others character – unfortunately when people do that excessively it tends to bounce back on them.

  • gr1nch

    Well that’s true enough, but discrimination, nepotism, verbal abuse and unsupported decision making (data on Varnish compared to peers?) has no place in an elite sports environment. Plenty of coaches demonstrate in tough sports that Sutton’s way isn’t the only way to achieve results.

    If Sutton puts the riders above himself why did he fly business class whilst he made the star riders go economy, as reported by one of the witnesses?

    I suspect it is about HIS desire to win at any cost, rather that what the riders, staff or public really want.

  • ummm…

    still dont understand you, and your attitude has turned me off to reviewing the thread. The important thing is that you use our brain and not your emotion. lets try that next time.

  • Michael

    You’re not sure what “someone else did” means?

    Sheesh, it’s worse than I thought.

    Perhaps you should read the thread you’re posting in.

    Get an adult to help you this time and let’s try again :-

    The point about DB was made by someone else – i.e not you. You made no point at all.

  • Andy

    It was just Shane’s character. PC Brigade, human rights , liberals. They are all wet behind the ears and limp. Some people need to ‘man up’ a bit.

  • ummm…

    not sure what you mean by “someone else did” but I’m not going to haggle over what guy in charge of bike riding should be questioned, even tho it seems pretty rudimentary that all within a time frame in question should be. you are free to go hug your DB life size doll now.

  • Michael

    You didn’t make any point. Someone else did.

    The difference in reading appears to be that you cannot.

  • ummm…

    It is a difference in reading. He was the maestro of both programs, but some alledge that he left Team GB without sufficient plans or preparation for the future. Hence, he took the credit for past results and moved on without bothering himself with the future strategy too much. It was after all pretty abrupt wasn’t it? You points do not make my points invalid.

  • Aileen Muir

    For me the most telling comments were from Kenny and Pendleton, both true winners and respected athletes with nothing to prove. Their comments suggested an institutional discrimination. Let’s not get entirely focuses on Shane here. British cycling is big on talking about not wasting public money on no medal hopers. Great, we don’t want public money wasted but nor do we want it to pay for an organisation rife with discrimination. I’m not saying it is rife, but it should be open to scrutiny. It seemed to me that the British public valued every medal in the same way at the London olympics, you might then think we would wish our athletes to be treated in the same way.

  • Michael

    Sheesh. Try and keep up.

    He was at both, so he didn’t “take the credit and move on” at all.

    Indeed, he’s won the TdF 3 times at Sky – that’s a significantly greater achievement in cycling. If he were inclined to “take the credit and move on” he would have left Sky after the first one or two TdF wins.

    He left Team GB because he was stretched too thinly between his roles.

  • Mike Prytherch

    Of course people have to be able to speak, but not in a way deemed sexist or offensive, I would say it’s sometimes hard to know what is sexist and what isn’t and perhaps that’s what you are refering to, I know I have accidently said things which have been taken the wrong way, even though I meant no malice or harm, but I’ve just asked 4 women who I work alongside if I said to them during a meeting to ‘Go off and have a baby” would they take it as sexist, all 4 said Yes, likewise how often has that statement been used against a man, I would hazard a guess at never, I don’t believe there is any middle ground on that statement, it’s more a question of if he said it or not in my book.

  • Sutton Atkins

    I’ve been in a dark room, padded walls, highly medicated, occasionally allowed out to go fast on a bike round a velodrome. I think you ‘outerworlders’ call it British Cycling.

  • ummm…

    you are certainly allowed to have your beliefs. not denying that

  • ummm…

    the second you start screaming sexist is when my alarms go off. I am more well versed in gender studies than most. I’m not sure you know what you mean when you throw that around. Sexism is a macro problem and not necessarily a way to describe every utterance. People have to be able to speak.

  • Mike Prytherch

    if he said them…. it’s not about his ability to manage, its about sexist comments, this should not be tolerated in any workplace, and the alleged comments about the disabled riders is beyond contempt.

  • ian franklin

    What is in the public domain and what we assume are two different things. For my part I firmly believe that she was not removed for athletic reasons but because she opened her gob after London WC’s this year. Not something a rough neck like Shane would appreciate. Whatever your comments Ummm, I have expressed my firmly held view and you are off course allowed to disagree. But facts are as they are: I do not believe her performances were in decline relative to the increased performances of other nations. ’tis the nature of sport.

  • Rupert the Super Bear

    Good post Ian

  • ummm…

    where is the proof of this? Has anybody at BC or otherwise presented a reasonsed argument that she was removed because of personal reasons? Is it not the case that her performances we in decline?

  • ian franklin

    Back in because she was not removed because of a lack of athletic ability. She was removed for a coach’s personal reasons. Think a bit more before posting.

  • ummm…

    this is an olympic program. I think a healthy respectful work environment is key to good production – but keep in mind what this is; the goal is to be the best in the world at putting yourself in pain and riding a bike. This is not working at a nursury.

  • ummm…

    back in for what? is the consensus that she is fit for an olympic role? back in because she had some unkind things SAID to her?

  • ummm…

    he was at both. it is a fair point by reece

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    Sutton? Class? Where have you been all your life?

  • ummm…

    well commenting on her anatomy may be harsh but could be part of his role – commenting on whether she needs to quit and what she needs to do after it is not appropriate. Possibly he thought they had a rapport, but looks like they didnt.

  • ummm…

    Not so much the PC brigade. Granted I think woman should not cry wolf at every unkind word, but in this case we should recognize that if he is acting like a fool then he will be a less effective manager as he wont have the confidence of his riders.

  • ummm…

    I can see why you’d say that. Everyone is yelling sexism and discrimination when convenient or for the slightest offense. However, it still isn’t “nice” to say what you said.

  • ummm…

    well she “set the record straight” by attacking his character and not his coaching abilities, which were originally in question, correct? Albeit character probably has a good deal to do with ones coaching effectiveness.

  • ummm…

    You believe that his words, while he is free to say them, impairs his ability to manage with full confidence of his riders – and that is why he needs to go?

  • Dead Sheep

    A full and unhindered independent investigation is required, conducted my somebody who is truly untainted and is competent to conduct a through investigation and get to the truth of the matter. Any findings will need to stand as objective and detailed with clearly defined recommendations. That way, complainants or defendants will not be able to complain about the result. What we do not want, is Sutton to be blamed as the single cause of the problem, if it the problem is institutional discrimination and wider poor behaviour. Blaming Sutton alone would be very convenient for BC to sweep more fundamental underlying problems under the metaphorical carpet. Equally, it is very easy to target Sutton given that his position which makes him vulnerable. That is why a strong independent test is required to rise above the emotion, not just to look at Sutton v Varnish et al, but to also investigate the wider institutional treatment of professional cyclists.

  • gr1nch

    With Kenny, Houvenaghel, Pendleton, Cooke and Varnish all highlighting the problems in BC’s coaching leadership – UK Sport and BC had to act. Its heart-rending to hear Kenny’s account particularly. Could it be that with these 5 it is just the tip of the iceberg and the full truth will be aired, showing discrimination, verbal abuse, unhealthy psychological pressure, lack of care and rigid get-results-and-shutup culture that was allowed to grow there. It would not surprise me that there are plenty of people around the BC coaching staff who are very uncomfortable about the situation but are afraid to come forward to tell the truth on their own – athletes tend to not speak out about coaches with the power to change their lives in an instant.

  • Dead Sheep

    What we do not want is ‘trial by internet’. Saying that, there have been undertones of problems at British Cycling for quite some time now.

    In such instances as this, a full and unhindered independent investigation is required, conducted my somebody who is truly untainted and competent. Any findings will need to stand as objective and detailed with clearly defined recommendations. That way, complainants or defendants will not be able to complain about the result.

    My gut feeling is that BC have serious questions to answer.

  • gr1nch

    Depends on who is asking the questions. I suspect that the established cycling press has its own cosy relationship with BC and that national newspapers who like a good, contentious story are more than willing to send their investigative reports out to see who else in the know has more to say.

  • gr1nch

    Looks like the OPs point was about real change happens when there is a whistle-blower, not that this particular whistle-blower is right. Not that she is a whilstle-blower really, since she was dropped BC agreed not to talk about it, then Sutton gives an interview criticising Varnish – so in effect she can be seen as defending herself and setting the record straight – something the general population would feel like doing in the same circumstances.

  • dourscot

    Interesting that the accusations weren’t made through the cycling press. It’s almost as if it was designed to cause maximum damage.

  • dourscot

    That’s the accusation – we don’t know that was what was said.

  • dourscot

    Apologies if I misread what you wrote but it seemed to be implied by the way you made your point.

  • ian franklin

    This is how people behave when they are out of their depth. My message to Sutton in quite clear: Don’t allow this to continue, wasting people’s energies in an Olympic year. Own up. Honesty is always the best approach and people will admire you for that. Own up and resign. You’ve had a good innings now it’s time to say ‘goodbye and good luck’. Meanwhile BC: Jess Varnish back in, eh? We all want that.

  • Michael

    “DB recognised when the share price had peaked and like any good CEO took the credit and moved on.”

    What? He was already at Sky.

  • Sean

    Rightly so being brought down, if the allegations are true, he gets sacked, just like I would if I made statements like that in work.

  • Mike Prytherch

    What part of my statement said I thought they were correct, please read it again… but perhaps I will help you… “if indeed these are true”.

  • CyberTonTo72

    Starting to go off reading ‘news’ in CW. Who can quote the Daily Mail with a straight face?

  • dourscot

    And you know the accusations to be correct despite the fact you have no first-hand knowledge?

  • reece46

    Dave Brailsford’s absence will leave BC looking more and more like your inept top down managed local council. Nobody there thought to replace the good cop in the Brailsford/Sutton routine. DB recognised when the share price had peaked and like any good CEO took the credit and moved on. Sutton would be scared stiff of dropping any more slow coaches after what’s happened.

  • Sutton Atkins

    I’m with you on the “PC” bit, I hate it. The world is far too sensitive these days. However, calling disable athletes “F’in Gimps” and “Wobblies” is not anti-PC, it’s not even just “straight talkin’,” it’s just downright rude. And telling a female athlete her hips are too big, and that she should “go have a baby” is also disrespectful, unnecessary and rude. I thought he had more class. Apparently not.

  • Utter rubbish.

  • Andy Harler

    Probably the best coach in cycling and he’s been brought down by the ‘PC’ brigade. Cycling has gone the same way as football. Used to be a working class sport, now been taken over by the prawn sandwich brigade and people who can’t afford a decent golf club membership.

  • Chris

    Perhaps you would care to publish your photo here and we can make up our minds about your personality?

  • llos25

    You talk some rubbish.

  • Norfolk_n_Chance

    Shaney needs to step away from the pathetic fat trackies and join a pro-tour road team.

  • Mike Prytherch

    This is what happens, one person has the courage or conviction (or nothing to lose anymore) to speak out and the floodgates open, if indeed these are true he deserves to go.

  • Mike Prytherch

    This always happens, one person speaks out and the bandwagon rolls in, if indeed these are true he deserves to go

  • Chris Williams

    I said before he looks like the school bully!!!